Recognizing The Stages Of Depression: What You Need To Know

Updated June 19, 2024by Regain Editorial Team
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See if this rings a bell. Your alarm goes off, and you wake up, but you do not have the energy to get out of bed. Eventually, you will yourself to get up—maybe after hitting snooze on the alarm a dozen times—and it is all you can do to get dressed and head to work. Throughout the day, you feel irritable. Every little thing that happens feels like a big deal. You have trouble concentrating, which makes simple decisions difficult. Even the things you typically enjoy do not bring you happiness. After a long day of struggling, you feel experience feelings of low self-esteem and confidence and wonder why you are the way you are. If any part of that feels familiar to you, then you may be showing signs of depression. In this article, we define depression and provide a description of the different types of depressive disorder and the stages of depression to help expand the knowledge and understanding of this serious mental health disorder and what treatment options are available.

Depression Symptoms Can Be Difficult To Navigate Alone

Depression: Definition And Background 

What is depression? That is a more complicated question than it may seem. According to the Mayo Clinic, the term depression refers to “a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest.” The common symptoms of depression, or major depressive disorder, include low moods, change in appetite, change in weight, no longer interested in normally pleasurable activities, trouble sleeping, feelings of fatigue and low energy, outbursts of anger or irritability, and feelings of worthlessness or guilt.

Traditionally, there has been a stigma surrounding mental health conversations, but thankfully the tide is turning in that regard. Whereas previous generations were expected to “just deal with it” and were culturally discouraged from talking about their mental health, today, people are growing more open to talking about these issues together. Because mental health conditions are losing this stigma, we now know that major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health disorders among adults. 20.1 million adults in the United States have experienced at least one depressive episode. 

There are many depression types, which means a diagnosis is not a “one size fits all” proposition. You could experience all the symptoms of depression or only a few. You could go through stages where you experience a mild form of depression for a period of time and exhibit no symptoms for another. The stages of depression are similar to the stages of grief in that they are not always linear or predictable. This emotional roller coaster can be a chaotic experience, and even more so if you are unable to recognize the signs of depression.

Most people will experience bouts of sadness at different points in their lives, but the symptoms of all types of depression are more than sadness. Depression affects people on a spectrum. Some experience intense depressive episodes regularly, some experience more mild forms like birthday depression or birthday blues. Regardless, living with any depression is not easy, but it is treatable. One of the first steps toward treatment is recognizing the depression types and the signs and symptoms of each. 

The following list includes several different types of depression, but it is by no means an exhaustive list or a diagnostic tool. This list is meant to be a starting place for you to familiarize yourself with the types of depression, which will help you recognize the signs of depression in your own life and the lives of your loved ones. After reviewing this list, if you believe you may be experiencing a form of depression, talk to a licensed professional to get a treatment plan that works for you.

Major Depressive Disorder

Major depression, also known as major depressive disorder (MDD), is the most common type of depression. People with major depression experience consistently low moods, fluctuation in weight and eating habits, difficulty sleeping, low energy, irritability, and/or feelings of extreme sadness and hopelessness. A depressive episode can be triggered by a traumatic experience or a stressful life event, but it does not have to be. Major depression can also be caused by a combination of brain chemicals and genetic makeup.

A professional diagnoses major depression through a thorough evaluation. While major depression is a serious condition (as it can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts and similar self-destructive symptoms), it is treatable. Because the symptoms of major depression vary in severity, a licensed professional may suggest talk therapy. If you have already experienced a depressive episode, you are at risk for another. The key to preventing progressive symptoms is to talk to a licensed professional as early as you notice the presence of symptoms. The licensed mental health professionals at Regain are here to help.

Perinatal Depression

Perinatal depression is a term that includes all forms of prenatal depression and postpartum depression. According to the National Institutes of Health, perinatal depression “is defined as depression in pregnancy, around childbirth, or within the first year postpartum.” Similar to major depressive disorder, someone experiencing perinatal depression could experience anger or irritability, loss of interest in pleasurable activities, consistent crying, mood swings, fatigue, and fluctuation in weight and appetite. Specific symptoms of perinatal depression include difficulty feeling attached to the baby in development or after birth (also called postpartum depression, or PPD).

Perinatal depression does not have a specific cause, though a person who experiences other depression types before pregnancy is considered a higher risk for perinatal depression.  Research indicates that perinatal depression is likely caused by various factors, including normal life stress (work, family, financial, etc.), past traumatic experiences, and pregnancy and childbearing (emotional and physical). A medical professional is required for a diagnosis of perinatal depression, but it is treatable. Perinatal depression treatments include cognitive behavior therapy, talk therapy, and potentially hormone therapy, depending on your symptoms' severity.

Atypical Depression


Another depression type is atypical, a common subtype of MDD accompanied by specific “atypical” symptoms. The symptoms include highly reactive moods (as opposed to consistently low moods), an increase in weight and appetite, oversleeping/fatigue during the day, heaviness in arms or legs that lasts a significant period of time during the day, and intense sensitivity to personal rejection. In severe cases, this form of depression may interfere with your ability to complete normal daily activities.

Because of the nature of its symptoms, this type of depression can be one of the most difficult depression types to diagnose, but it is far from a “rare” diagnosis. This form of depression is more prevalent in people who experience bipolar disorder and those who experience a depressive episode at an early point (teenage years). A licensed professional is required for the diagnosis, but the good news is it is treatable with talk therapy. 

Situational Depression

Situational depression is a type of depression that lasts a short period of time and is related to a traumatic or stressful event (or multiple events). This type of depression includes difficulty sleeping, consistent crying, depressed mood, anxiety, difficulty completing everyday tasks, no longer interested in pleasurable activities, and no longer interested in food. A typical diagnosis of this type of depression comes when you show symptoms within 90 days after a difficult or traumatic life event, and the symptoms continue beyond 6 months.

Life events are unpredictable, and at any given time, a stressful situation can be introduced into your life. Coping mechanisms will help you prepare to combat persistent depression symptoms that arise from situational depression.

Seasonal Depression

Seasonal Depression, otherwise known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), is a common mood disorder that causes recurring episodes of depression at similar times every year. Seasonal depression is most common in climates with limited sunlight in certain months of the year and in locations where sunlight is regularly absent due to cloudiness or a more northern location. The symptoms of seasonal depression are similar to an episode of major depression, including irritability, feelings of sadness or anxiety, lack of concentration, no longer interested in typically enjoyable activities, and an increased need for sleep. Fortunately, seasonal depression is typically self-diagnosable and can be treated with a range of treatments from lightboxes, vitamin D supplementation, and regular exercise to cognitive behavior therapy and medicine, depending on the severity of symptoms.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder, previously known as manic depression, is a mental health condition characterized by extreme mood swings from manic highs to depressive lows. Someone experiencing manic depression can experience mood swings on rare occasions or frequently, and the shift between mania and depression is unpredictable. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of manic episodes include being abnormally upbeat wired or jumpy, increased energy, euphoria (an exaggerated sense of well-being and self-confidence), decreased need for sleep, unusual talkativeness, racing thoughts, distractibility, and poor decision making. Symptoms of an episode of major depression include depressed mood (sad, empty, hopeless, or tearful), marked loss of interest in most activities, significant weight loss or weight gain, insomnia or sleeping too much, restlessness, or slowed behavior, and extreme fatigue.

The unpredictability of manic and depressive episodes can cause major disruptions in your life and the lives of your loved ones. Manic depression, of all the depression types on this list, is the one that most requires professional mental health treatment. Without treatment, symptoms can progress to psychotic depression or mania, which could require hospitalization. If you feel like you may be experiencing these extreme mood swings regularly, contact a mental health professional immediately.

Persistent Depression

Persistent depressive disorder, also called dysthymia, is a term for depressive disorders that last for two years or more. A persistent depressive disorder is a chronic depression condition where depressive episodes come and go over a long period of time. Sometimes these episodes vary in severity, and it is possible to experience an episode of MDD in the midst of persistent depression, which is referred to as double depression. In addition to common depression symptoms, the symptoms of persistent depression include low self-esteem, trouble making decisions, consistent guilt over past actions or events, decreased activity over an extended period, avoiding social interaction, and excessive anger.

Getty/Vadym Pastukh
Depression Symptoms Can Be Difficult To Navigate Alone

Persistent depression requires medical diagnosis and treatment, so if you feel you have exhibited the symptoms of this disorder for a period of time, reach out to someone and seek treatment. Though they may have been present for a long time, this type of disorder's symptoms is treatable with professional help.

Seeking Professional Help

If you are experiencing the common symptoms of depression or another related disorder (anxiety and depression overlap very often, for instance), you must seek out the mental healthcare you need and deserve. Remember that a mental health condition is still a health condition to be taken seriously and that mental health treatment is an important part of overall health care. If you are location-bound or not comfortable going outside and establishing physical contact or attending support groups, then you can also reach out to a therapist or counselor online.

Research shows that online therapy platforms can be a powerful treatment option for people living with depression. In a study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research, the effects of online counseling on symptom of depression and anxiety were examined. Treatment was in the form of a 12-week online cognitive-behavioral therapy program with the goal of reducing symptoms within 9 months. Researchers found that the program successfully reduced depression symptoms in participants at a 9-month follow-up. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a widely accepted form of counseling that works by helping individuals better understand the negative thoughts underlying their symptoms.

Should your depression make it difficult to get out of the house or should you have a busy schedule, you may want to try online therapy. A licensed counselor can help you determine if a support group is right for you as they guide you on the path to recovery. 


It is natural to experience feelings of sadness or lack of motivation from time to time. But, if these feelings persist and impact your life and work, it is important you recognize the need for mental health support. Any form of a depressive disorder can have a severe impact on a person’s quality of life, and if you are one who manages one, you understand how challenging it can be. Managing symptoms of depression is not easy, but the condition is treatable. Know you are not alone. When you are ready, reach for the support of an online mental health therapist.

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